Monday, December 17, 2007

A journey through shadows: Rings of Saturn

There are only two real hobbies that I have - reading and traveling (Yes, I am still only slipping into cinema and have a long way to go). In a way really they are quite connected because they are both about seeing the world. Of course with books, you can see more worlds than the one that lies before your eyes, because they can transcend the borders of time, and you have to spend far less on the journey :-)

So what delight it can be, if the two of my favorite things come together in a travelogue, which delves deeper than a trip account and transports one into a totally different world. That too a world which lives not in the present but is only a decaying ghost of of an eventful, rich past.

Rings of Saturn by Sebald is an account of the narrator's foot journey through East Anglia, covering the counties of Suffolk and Norfolk. Whether Sebald actually undertook this journey or if the book is a completely fiction is something I have not managed to find out. The narration, however carries the conviction of memoirs and as you walk through the pages, you feel that not only Sebald, but you yourself also made that journey. Page through page, you can hear the 'rumble of thunder', smell the acrid fumes and sometimes even feel the shuddering chill as the textual clouds cover the textual sky. In so many ways, Sebald has managed to paint on a canvas through words and make his picture come alive.

As I said earlier, the journey transcends the borders of time, and it seems that in stead of being unidimensional, time had in stead become a hall with many doors, and you could move through these times at will, or at least at the author's will. The hall, however, is only a ghost of what lies beyond these doors. And Sebald heartbreakingly devours this ghost, through words and images, before entering through one of those doors in a flourishing time. He then makes us meet a lot of illustrious characters who live or lived in East Anglia - the learned and the eccentric, the dedicated and the talented. We see him uncovering the life of Conrad, pondering over the anatomical works of Browne or imagining himself to be a shadow of Michael Hamburger.

Many times, the book seemed to me, more than a travel account to be an account of destruction wrought over by time, almost as if time makes everything worse, and we are merely living in a fraction of the world that was. This thought is no better underlined than in these words:
...time has run it course and that life is no more than the fading reflection of an event beyond recall. We simply do not know how many of its possible mutations the world may already have gone through, or how much time, always assuming that it exists, remains.
At such times, the reading became very disconcerting and disturbing and I found myself wading depressively through my memories and weighing these words, of course never finding the answer, or even knowing if it exists.

5 comments:

Alok said...

You are right in finding that link between travelling and reading/writing. Sebald is not a "tourist", his journey is not a journey of sighseeing but a journey of discovery. What makes it so amazing is that he goes so far in space and time, almost everywhere, but ultimately in the end he is also journeying inside himself even though because his writing is so honest, transparent and yet elusive that it never feels narcissistic, unlike the travelogues of a romantic who sees in everything only a reflection of his own moods and thoughts.

Other aspect that unifies the apparently framentary narratives, which strikes a personal chord with me, is his melancholic worldview - the way he sees everything hurtling towards doom and destruction and oblivion. His journey and his writing then becomes a heroic act of resistance, though ultimately futile, against this force of nature.

Also, Check out this excellent blog lots of stuff about his works. There are lots of interesting reviews and essays on the internet elsewhere as well.

Madhuri said...

Alok, as I have said earlier - can't thank you enough for introducing me to Sebald's writing - I am truly loving it.
I enjoyed reading Rings of Saturn and its melancholic narration, specially when he shows no respect for the limits of time and steps from one time into another so seamlessly that you are forced to wonder if he is still in present or gone into the past.The picture is paint is awfully haunting and therefore dearer.

Ubermensch said...

Dont know if you have come across
check Danubio by Claudio amgris,w hcih is similar diffuse exploration, of identities-from within and without, mostly from without travelling and tracking the course of Danube river and teh rich european civilizations either sides of its banks.

Rings is not fictional, Sebald did teh suffolk walk trip in 1992.
cheers

Ubermensch said...

Cladio Magris. sorry.

Madhuri said...

Thanks for your suggestions Ubermesch. I have not come across Magris yet, but will keep on a lookout.